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'Do Not Retain'

     That's what the N.M. Supreme Court's Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission recommends voters do with Judge Paul Onuska's bid for yet another term as district judge. Of the 80 judges evaluated statewide, only three other judges got the thumbs down from the Commission (and all of them were misdemeanor court judges in Albuquerque). The Commission surveyed lawyers and other courtroom participants, and interviewed each judge twice, as part of their evaluation.

     "Respondents raised serious concerns about (Onuska's) arrogance, perceived lack of impartiality and courtesy, and the negative impact that his general demeanor has on his courtroom. For these reasons, his overall judicial performance received a rather low rating," the Commission states on its website, www.nmjpec.org.

     Half-way through Onuska's term, the Commission advised Onuska of his poor scores. "Although these weaknesses have been previously identified, Judge Onuska has expressed little desire to improve, and his scores in these areas have continued to decline," the Commission states.

     The state bar and the N.M. Supreme Court were shocked in the mid-nineties, when a poll showed that New Mexicans do not hold their state judges to the same high esteem that the residents of most other states hold their state courts to.

     One problem is a lack of accountability. In the past very few (we've been told, only one) district judge has failed to win his retention election. The nature of a retention election means that a bad judge has no opponent to publicize his shortcomings. Voters are left with no information with which to cast an intelligent vote in a retention election. In 1997, the N.M. Supreme Court created the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission to increase the performance of New Mexico's judiciary, and to give voters an intelligent evaluation of judges seeking retention. The Commission consists of seven attorneys and eight laymen appointed by the Supreme Court from nominations forwarded by the governor, chief justice of the supreme court, speaker of the house, senate pro-tem, house minority leader, senate minority leader, and the president of the state bar. Felix Briones, Jr., of Farmington, is the chairman of the commission, whose members are from all points in the state.

     The Commission members-who serve without pay--did a tremendous amount of work for the people of New Mexico. If the voters ignore their hard work and their careful advice, and retain bad judges they will have no one to complain to about the sad state of New Mexico's judiciary, except themselves.

So far we have not received a reply (see "Questions for Onuska")

C.S.O. Vicky Chavez’s name is chiseled into

the wall at the National Law Enforcement

Memorial, in Washington, D.C. The wall

contains the names of law enforcement officers

killed in the line of duty going back to 1794.

The National Law Enforcement Memorial was

authorized by Congress and dedicated by

President George H.W. Bush in 1991. To see

C.S.O. Chavez’s photo, and to learn more

about the Memorial, go to